by Sharon Kay Penman



309pp/$27.95/February 2002

Time and Chance

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Time and Chance is Sharon Kay Penman's follow-up to When Christ and His Saints Slept. The Anarchy has ended with Henry II taking up the English throne following the disastrous, war-torn reign of his cousin, Stephen.  Time and Chance follows Henry's reign from its earliest days until the aftermath of the murder of Thomas Becket.  During this period, Penman has the opportunity to examine Henry's friendship with Becket, his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine and his love affair with Rosamund Clifford.

The period covered by Time and Chance is when Henry and Eleanor were first married and Eleanor bore Henry eight children. If Time and Chance were a romance instead of an historical novel, this period would have been shown as one of nuptial bliss, however, Penman depicts Henry's affair with Rosamund Clifford. Her portrayal of these characters is one of the strongest aspects of the novel.

One of the difficulties Penman faces in Time and Chance is the reader's familiarity with her characters and, most notably, their representations in films such as "Becket" and "The Lion in Winter" or plays like "Murder in the Cathedral." In order to get away from this, Penman presents a different viewpoint of Thomas Becket. Rather than appearing as a principled archbishop, he is shown as an enigma, standing for his own power rather than the power of the Church. This portion of the novel would have stood up better if Penman had given more consideration to her perception of Becket and spent time discussing his motivations.

At the same time, Henry's battle with Becket and his love affair with Rosamund Clifford were not the only major events of his reign, and Penman shows us some of the other activities through the eyes of the fictitious Ranulf, living among the Welsh. While Henry's story is personal, the inclusion of Ranulf allows Penman to demonstrate that Henry's England had political problems apart from France and the continent. Ranulf comes to life as fully as any of the historical characters, demonstrating that Penman does not need the skeleton of historicity upon which to build plausibility.

With a wide ranging canvas, Penman manages to successfully tie her various strains together to provide a captivating narrative of the period. Her attention to details brings the period to life in much the way Peter Glenville or Anthony Harvey's films. While Glenville and Harvey had set dressings and props to convey the period, Penman has only words, which she makes admirable use of.

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